Thu. Sep 19th, 2019

Spotter Up

In Depth Tactical Solutions

Things to Keep in Mind Before Climbing Outdoors

6 min read


Went out this morning with Jordan McDougal. We’d been planning to run up to a solitary area that he knew about. He was going to show me a canyon that required some running and climbing to get into. First, I have to say that Jordan is fast. Second, he is nimble. Third, he makes it look easy. He can easily jump from one surface to another like a flying squirrel. Jordan allowed me to set the pace as we trucked moderately fast uphill. Fast to me is slow to him. This is a guy who runs sub 5 minute miles.

Our goal was to get to the crest of the mountain and then climb down her flanks which were made of grayish-black basalt rock. I talked most of the way as we ambled up the side of the mountain, about projects I was working on. He has an easy-going nature. He happily shared his running techniques with me as we made the 1.5 mile climb through the park and up the mountain and I tried my best to absorb the free wisdom he was dispensing.

The best part of our run was getting to the rocks. Our lean trail-running shoes had thick foot plates, and that gave us some traction to get a secure foothold on the stones. We weren’t doing anything really technically difficult. Still, some good upper body strength was needed in order to boulder up and down the cliff wall. A lot of the area up there is covered by broken branches, slippery moss and pockets of dead leaves. All of these can cause you to get injured severely if you take a misstep.

We climbed up around the ridges and spurs along the range. Much of the sides of the cliffs were layered with stacks of large fallen rock formations. I’d liken the rocks to being stacks of dominoes placed against a very large domino. They were laid out like steps of a stairwell. We were making our way through the grey/black basalt rock formations and Jordan would climb between the fallen rocks like a tunneling rat, and sometimes above them. He is quick. I tried to keep up but couldn’t.

We did this over the course of an hour, rising and falling with the terrain in order to get lower into the valley. Some of the areas between the rocks were so narrow we had to slink through them on our bellies like snakes. Other places were high and we climbed straight upwards and used our fingers, feet and shoulder muscles. Once we finished crawling through the canyon we ran up the crest of the mountain and made our run home. There was a good 8′ foot angled boulder wall on the pathway and we sprinted up it a few times. Jordan went to snap a picture of me with his GoPro. There was a little ledge at the top of the boulder to stand upon but it was too narrow for more than two people to place themselves there unless the other person scooted over.


I leaped towards Jordan. He tried to move to the side. Without a place for my feet, I took a good, hard tumble over the end of the boulder, and slapped a tree branch out-of-the-way of my face before I struck the ground with one heel and then spun upside down onto my back.

The air was completely knocked out of me. I had a good bone bruise on my heel. Nothing was broken but man did I hurt. Too funny. I wasn’t sure if I broke anything. I hobble/jogged downwards over technical terrain and to my car.

Thank God Jordan was with me, in case it was serious. Or maybe not, I mean he was in my way. Well, my fault huh? One day later my foot and ankle would be purple colored and swollen to the size of a grapefruit. We are risk takers!

For any out-door excursion you should have a plan. Especially if you are going to tackle climbing.

  • Know where you’re going: Don’t just amble into the woods alone unless you know how to navigate out of an area. Bring a partner or leave a note or word with a friend where you will be headed. I have run through that particular park many times but it was clear to me that Jordan has thoroughly explored parts I’d never ventured into before. Some of those areas require memorizing your path and knowing how to backtrack. At a minimum take a map with you or get a good look at the park trails. You’ll find signage near most ranger stations or info centers. You may know land navigation but what if you break a leg, or get lost? It will be difficult to track your location if you don’t know how to navigate like us.
  • Bring the proper food, hydration and equipment: We weren’t gone but two hours. Running uphill on technical paths are tricky and can be tiring for beginners. If you want to get outdoors bring the proper shoes for climbing, running or hiking. Keds aren’t going to get you very far. Many people bring walking sticks and hiking boots. I wore the Altra Lone Peaks which are great for trails but aren’t really meant for climbing. They were okay substitutions but you don’t want to use thick shoes with built up medial posts and a huge drop. We like to explore. A good mix of physical ability, mental skills to see openings and good shoes are a plus. Wear the appropriate clothing for the season and the trails. Bring enough water and food for the trip.
  • Be in good physical condition: Jordan is amazing to watch as he takes flying leaps from boulder to boulder. Make sure you have good strong ankles before you try something aggressive. I have been doing trail runs for 37 plus years, and built up a good leg-girdle. If your muscles, tendons and ligaments aren’t ready for stress try to tone it down some. One thing I noticed is how strong Jordan’s ankles are. He can really leap but this takes time to get conditioned properly. Do not go beyond what you are capable of. We are both good leapers but I don’t tackle the same level that he does.
  • Pick a project to attack: Do you know what you want to climb? Don’t pick out something that is beyond your ability. Start slow, be sensible and build up your ability. In good time you’ll be able to scale walls that you couldn’t before. Don’t head into terrain that you can’t handle. We hear many stories about people, military or non-military, who have no climbing ability. They climb up a cliff wall and get stuck halfway up and cannot get down or go up to safety.
  • Have common sense: Try not to go to close to cliffs unless you know the terrain. As we ran along the cliff tops we could see travelers getting a great view of the valley. They were sitting down on the edges of the cliffs. Be sure you know the ground can hold you before planting a step. Also, as we climbed it was good not to rely on grabbing a tree branch to hold us. These things can snap easily. Plunging to your death is not a good thing. It has been a while since I bouldered but I went at the speed I knew I could do. Jordan is very agile. I only chased him on flat terrain. Try to go slow and don’t go beyond your ability. As your confidence builds up you will be able to go quicker and try more challenging climbs. You’ll be able to fix your poor techniques by practicing properly, not by practicing sloppily.
  • Weather: Did you check your iPhone apps for the weather in your area? Approaching storms can take you by surprise. Find shelter if you must. Getting half way up a rock and getting rained upon is simply dangerous and foolish on your part. Plan ahead!
  • First Aid: Do you know basic first aid? You should be able to know how to do basic care. When I landed hard on my heel, I tested it to see if I broke anything. Just a good bruise. Getting back to my car required stubbornness but not 911. Accidents do happen but don’t amble into the unknown without a partner and a plan if you’re a novice outdoorsman, hiker, climber etc.
  • Have fun




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.